O.K. I know what you’re thinking. Don’t worry, it’s been said before. Some folks do call them kayak condoms and worse, but on the other hand it’s always wise to practice safe sea kayaking, right? So if you’d like to try your hand at slightly off-color sea sock jokes, please feel free.. I’ll be in the other room reading, “The City in the Sea” by Poe….
…. There open fanes and gaping graves
Yawn level with the luminous waves;
But not the riches there that lie
In each idol’s diamond eye-
Not the gaily-jewelled dead
Tempt the waters from their bed;
For no ripples curl, alas!
Along that wilderness of glass-
No swellings tell that winds may be
Upon some far-off happier sea-
No heavings hint that winds have been
On seas less hideously serene….
Now, where was I? Oh, that’s right, Sea socks…
A sea sock is a sea kayaking safety device that many kayakers have never actually seen or heard of. It’s basically a big waterproof bag that is placed inside the kayak and attached snugly around the kayak combing (rim). The point of the sea sock is to keep a large volume of water from entering the kayak. If properly fit the sock itself can fill with water, but the rest of the kayak will not. It should also not interfere with getting in or out, or placing your feet on peddles if you have them, or operating a rudder. In the end a well-made, well-fitted sock should keep your kayak afloat even if you take a swim. Having played with a few sea socks, I’m a bit leery of trusting them on their own. In my opinion, when used in a kayak with no bulkheads, a sea sock should not be used as a replacement for float bags, but is certainly a great second defense against sinking your kayak in open water.
Don’t have a skin boat? Well, there are other reasons to consider a sea sock regardless of the type of kayak you paddle. Maybe the most obvious is that a sea sock will also help you keep grit and mud out of your boat, a big plus in skin-on-frame kayaks for sure, but nice in any boat. You can drag all the mud and crap into your sock, then simply turn it inside out and hose it down at the end of the day. In cool weather, a sea sock also provides an extra layer of insulation which can be quite nice as well. There are days when I love my canvas sea sock simply because it’s like wrapping up in a warm cozy blanket when I go paddling. In addition, if you struggle to drain your kayak on shore, or during rolling practice, rescues or whatever, a sea sock may help. Simply reducing the volume of water in the kayak will make it easier to lift and drain your boat.
Theoretical Advantage of a Sea Sock
From here I’m going to get a bit theoretical, simply because I’ve not been out in ‘heavy’ situations using a sea sock. In theory they should offer some real benefits in rescue situations. A boat full of water is much less stable, making it harder to do self rescues. With a sea sock in place, your kayak should be more should remain more stable, allowing a better chance for a successful solo recovery. You should also be able to drain the water that remains within the sea sock much faster. In a two person rescue the sea sock should make the job of draining the boat easier as well. The bigger benefit is probably when you don’t have time to drain the casualties kayak during a rescue. Normally when you can’t drain their boat, you put them into a fairly full, and very unstable kayak in the same conditions that may have taken them over in the first place. By limiting the amount of water in the kayak, a sea sock should allow the rescued paddler more stability (than without a sea sock) from the moment they re-enter their boat. Again, it’s worth mentioning that the limited space of a sea sock will allow the paddler to warm up faster as well. Of course all of this is nothing more than conjecture until I get time to go play with a sock in something other than flat conditions myself.
Dangers of a Sea Sock?
The other side of the sea sock coin is the risks. Are there risks? Well, back to research & theory again. It’s been suggested that sea socks can interfere with rescues and especially with a re-entry and roll. I can certainly see a sock getting twisted up in an active situation. However if you have a fairly stiff sock like my canvas version, it shouldn’t be an issue. I’d also think that if the sock is full of water, it again would stay open and easy to enter. That said, I can imagine situations where an unruly sea sock could become an obstacle.
I’ve also read that there some fear of entrapment. The theory holds that if water leaks in around the combing or you get a hole in the hull of your kayak, the water will create pressure around the sock and may hold you in place. I would think that you and your sock could still simply wet-exit.. but it’s still worth thinking about. Lastly, and maybe most common, a poorly made or fitted sea sock will just come off with the paddler or allow water in around the combing. This would only be a real problem if you were depending on the sock to stay afloat.. something I’ve already said, would be a bad choice in my opinion.
Personally, I use my sea sock all the time (especially in cooler weather) in my skin boat whilst (Yes, I did use “whilst” in a sentence!!) on fairly flat water. I’ve done re-entry rolls without much problem. I do find myself working the fabric a bit with my feet when I re-enter upside down, but it’s certainly not a big problem. Regardless, I also use float bags.. just in case!
In the end it’s fair to say that you probably don’t want to use a sea sock until you’ve tested it in the conditions you expect to paddle in. At the same time, you may find you really like the added protection… O.K. you may go back to the condom jokes now… Hey, it’s almost the weekend…